Why IOT matters so much

The Internet of Things (IoT) is getting a lot of play right now. And rightly so. Yes, it's probably over-hyped, but the possibility IoT brings is enormous. It holds the promise of making products better and more reliable, cities more livable, reducing waste, saving energy, and ultimately reducing the burden we collectively place on our planet.

I'll talk more about the promise of IoT in future posts, but today I wanted to focus on how IoT will help improve the quality, reliability, and extend the lives of products. And products that last longer has to be an improvement in the throwaway culture we seem to be developing.

As Moore's Law continues to give us cheaper, smaller, lower power computing each and every year we are headed to a time when it becomes economically viable to put "smarts" into pretty much anything. The incremental cost of doing so will be negligible. And if there is utility in an object becoming smart, connected, and sensing, it will. Even trivial items in our world will become at least moderately intelligent and connected. Smart clothing, smart coffee cups, smart packaging, smart tennis racquets, smart toys, smart everything. Some of these objects are already starting to show up in the market. The rest will come in the next few years.

So how does all this help the planet? Once you make an object smart and connected you enable it to be sold in new ways, to be monetized in new ways, and to be shared amongst many people. It becomes possible for products to become services. Rather than buy a car, now I can rent one by the minute or the hour. Or if I'm a farmer maybe I can now pay by the acre for crop harvesting rather than having to pay for equipment up front. This shifts the burden of ownership from the consumer to the manufacturer. And when that happens all kinds of magical things occur.

When a manufacturer is designing a product today, they may be tempted to include some element of built-in obsolescence. After all, once you've bought a product you're not likely to buy a replacement until the previous one no longer meets your needs. When a replacement cycle is the goal of the manufacturer they don't always need to design products to last. In fact, they may have the opposite incentive. Now consider the case where you are buying an object as a service. That could be a car, a toilet-cleaning robot, or a smart teddy bear that reads books to children. Doesn't matter what the product is...if you're paying $10/month for it, a product as a service, instead of shelling out the upfront expense, then you don't actually own it. And the manufacturer of that item is now incentivized to have that product be reliable and last a lot longer. They don't want to have to fix it when it breaks--rolling a maintenance crew to your location is expensive. Suddenly the dynamic has shifted. Making products that last longer makes economic sense. And manufacturers can use the embedded smarts and connectedness of the object to deliver down-the-wire feature improvements (that perhaps you are willing to pay extra for) and to fix any issues and handle remote maintenance.

I'm very optimistic about what IoT can do for the products we buy, the sustainability of our way of life, and the quality of life we all enjoy in the future. This will be a theme I'll develop in future posts, but for now I invite you to spend a few minutes thinking about what objects in your life you would like to make smart, connected, and sensing.